IBM Watson, Illumina collaborate on cancer genetics decision-making

DNA sequence

IBM Watson Health's Watson for Genomics platform is to help inform cancer treatment decisions based on gene sequencing data from company Illumina. 

The artificial intelligence software will by applied to data from Illumina's TruSight Tumor 170 platform - a next generation sequencing gene panel that provides data related to 170 genes associated with common solid tumours.

Watson will analyse the data alongside medical literature, clinical trial data and professional guidelines to help produce informed insights on how cancers could be treated.

The entire process from raw genetic data to treatment insights will be completed in a matter of minutes - much quicker than the usual week or so it takes scientists to produce a similar report.

“This partnership lays the groundwork for more systematic study of the impact of genomics in oncology,” said Deborah DiSanzo, general manager, IBM Watson Health. “Together we are poised to help researchers realise the potential of precision oncology by expanding access to valuable genome sequencing from Illumina and reliable, standardised genomic interpretation from Watson.”

For IBM, the deal is the first of 2017 to deploy its AI software in healthcare. It follows a busy 2016 for the company which saw its Watson for Genomics platform recruited as part of US Vice President Joe Biden's Cancer Moonshot 2020 initiative. The AI will be used to accelerate access to precision medicine for veterans.

Similarly, Illumina has been busy establishing itself as a key player in the genomics field in the past year. It most recently joined the iHope coalition where it will work alongside San Diego-based non-profit Foundation for the Children of the Californias, the Rare Genomics Institute of Maryland and the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital to help identify undiagnosed rare diseases in children in financial need.

“To enable precision cancer medicine on a large scale, we need new tools to overcome the data barriers of genomic research,” said Francis deSouza, President and CEO of Illumina. “With a comprehensive assay of Illumina and the power of Watson, we hope to deliver a rapid turnaround of the genomic alteration results.”

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Marco Ricci

10 January, 2017